Sunday, March 3, 2013

Homily for 3d Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Lent
March 3, 2013
Ex 3: 1-8, 13-15
Provincial House, New Rochelle, N.Y.

“Moses came to Horeb, the mountain of God” (Ex 3: 1).

Moses has been living with Jethro for many years; unfortunately, Exodus describes the passage of years only as “a long time” (2:23).  Moses has married one of Jethro’s daughters, had a son, lived in exile as “a stranger in a foreign land” (2:22), and presumably been helping tend Jethro’s flocks for that whole “long time.”

Is the occasion in today’s story from Exodus 3 the 1st time Moses and the flock—and whoever else was with them—have come to Horeb, which is another name for Sinai?  Probably not, assuming that nomads like Jethro’s clan followed a regular pattern of travel from pasture to pasture, from watering place to watering place, year after year.

But this time Horeb is different.  From the burning bush God tells Moses to remove his sandals, “for the place where you stand is holy ground” (3:5).  Did the place suddenly become holy, or is Moses is being made to see God’s presence where he’d never been aware of it before?  Granted, it had never been so obvious before.
Moses and the burning bush. Mosaic in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington
Something else happens in this episode.  It’s skipped over in the 5 verses that the lectionary omits from the passage.  God tells Moses, “I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (3:10).  And Moses responds, “Who?  Me?” (cf. 3:11).  He doesn’t see his own capabilities, but only his limitations—fear, poor speaking skill, refugee status.

So 2 things are hidden here:  the presence of God in an ordinary place, an ordinary scene, ordinary life; and the power of God within someone whom God calls.

Grace Loeffler. Photo from her blog.
In the last couple of weeks at least 2 of the SLMs have noted in blogs that they’ve rather suddenly, in this season of Lent, become aware of all the opportunities for penance around them in their daily lives.  For instance, from South Sudan Grace Loeffler writes: “What I’ve discovered is this: Mission is in itself is a penance. Paralleling the satisfaction and joy of daily life is the daily commitment to sacrifice. This joy masked the small struggles of daily life for many months; and without coincidence, the Lord chose this holy season to open my eyes to this daily sacrifice, offering me the opportunity for growth and a greater dependence upon His grace. It’s truly a gift, but it hasn’t been easy!”

Of course we SDBs have always been aware that the Lord calls us to “accept the daily demands and renunciations of the apostolic life” and to be “ready to suffer cold and heat, hunger and thirst, weariness and disdain whenever God’s glory and the salvation of souls require it” (C18).

The Lord’s presence, the Lord’s graces, the Lord’s love, opportunities and challenges from the Lord are always around us.  We shouldn’t need bushes to burst into flame to see them, or to be knocked to our feet like St. Paul, or to have strange dreams like Don Bosco.  Jesus urges us to recognize “the signs,” not just in tragedies (as in today’s gospel, Luke 13:1-9) or in weather patterns (12:54-56), but in the entire world around us.  How is God revealing himself to us, and to what is he calling us, in ways that maybe we haven’t been noticing but should be noticing:  in the natural world, the environment; in great political events like the resurgence of Islam, democratic revolutions, and political paralysis; in vast cultural changes in the Western world and in globalization; in the decline in religiosity and even the re-paganization of the West, in Latin America’s turning from Catholicism to evangelical religion; in the huge transformations in communications technology?  How does God reveal himself to us, and to what is he calling us, in the people around us every day:  in their needs, their fears, their longings, their hopes, their triumphs, their failures?  How is he revealing himself in my own life, in what happens to me, in the fears, the longings, the joys of my heart (like the burning hearts of the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus!), and in the Word that I read and hear every day?

When we do hear God’s voice—in dramatic events or deep within our hearts—we may feel overwhelmed and incapable, as Moses did.  Our Holy Father emeritus surely felt that way when he was elected Peter’s successor 8 years ago—and he’d been begging Blessed John Paul for years to allow him to retire to a quiet, scholarly life much more suited to his personality.  Isn’t that how Johnny Bosco felt in that 1st dream:  “Confused and frightened, I replied that I was a poor, ignorant child.  I was unable to talk to those youngsters about religion.  ‘Who are you, ordering me to do the impossible?’” (MO 1989, p. 18)?

God knew what Moses was capable of; he’d already seen Moses in action:  defending his fellow Israelite against injustice (Ex 2:11-12), defending Jethro’s daughters against the local bullies (2:15-17).  God gave Moses human assistance:  his brother Aaron as spokesman and aide, and later, young Joshua and a whole cohort of judge-assistants.  Most of all, God himself stayed with Moses.  “Tell the Israelites, the Lord has sent me to you” (3:15), and here’s the evidence:  he’s told me his name (3:14), which means I can call upon him any time I need to (one commentator compares this revelation of the divine Name to giving someone your private phone number).  God forms a most intimate relationship with Moses, so that, as Exodus 33 tells us, they speak to each other “face to face, as one man speaks to another” (v. 11), something entirely unheard of in the OT.

God knows what we’re capable of, as well, and assures us that he is with us.  “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus tells his disciples repeatedly.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?” St. Paul asks (Rom 8:31).  As Moses’ life and ministry, and Don Bosco’s too, show us, we don’t know the resources within us when we allow God to direct us, to use us as his instruments to rescue his people from their slavery and guide them toward salvation (cf. Ex 3:8).

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